Strangers in the Strange Land

Boarders’ Cultural Shock

Emily McDonald in Jamaica,
Emily Tonn at her home.
Jack Qu in Guilin.
Faith Khoo (right) with her sister Asheley Khoo in Singapore.

When the new school year started, 70 boarders from all over the world came back to Jacksonville. Not only do new boarders have cultural shocks when they first come to the United States, but so do returning boarders. After a whole summer at home, it is not easy for boarders to return to life in Jacksonville.
Transportation Level 0-100

Emilia Tonn, a new junior from Hamburg, Germany, said compared to the United States, German public transportation is safe and convenient. In Germany, Tonn said, “We ride bikes and uses subways. It’s really convenient and you can go everywhere with it. We have some highways where you can drive as fast as you want.”

American reliance on cars is not a surprise for Emily McDonald—a returning junior from Jamaica—said she uses cars in Jamaica because public transportation and walking long distances are dangerous, “Jamaica is not a safe place.”

Moving to Singapore, Faith Khoo shared that her parents drive her, but she also takes buses, MRT (subway, for Americans), and Grab(Uber, for Americans). What shocked Faith in the United States is that people can drive at such a young age.

Jack Qu, returning to Jacksonville from Shanghai, China, compared transportation in China and the United States. Qu said that back home, he used Mobike–bikes that you can unlock by swiping your phone–everywhere. “They are also opening the 17th subway line in Shanghai now.”he said. Qu prefers the Chinese transportation, for the subway takes him everywhere in Shanghai. He laughed,“In the U.S., you have to drive everywhere. Like, you can’t walk to Target.”

Food Across Borders
Tonn likes German chocolates, especially Ritter Sport. She also loves Brezels(pretzels in English) with butter. In America, she likes the fries. When comparing German chocolates and American ones, she prefers German chocolates. “They are just better.”

Speaking of food, McDonald loves Jamaican curry goat, and “When it comes to the U.S., it’s Chick-fil-A.” She has never tried curry goats in the States. “I don’t want to,” she said. “It is really spicy in Jamaica, but here they usually mess it up.”

Khoo prefers food in Singapore. She loves Wanton mee(noodles with pork) and black pepper crab. Also, Khoo said Singapore makes better sushi and sashimi than the US. “Compared to the U.S., I like the food back home 100%. ”

The definition of true American food is vague. As Khoo said, “I like American food, but I don’t really know what American food is. If you go out to the street, there is Chipotle, McDonald’s and Panda Express. They are all mixed up.”

Jack Qu loves it as long as there is food. As he said, “Chinese food and American food both fit my stomach.”

Culture vs. Culture
Tonn said that what seems astonishing is that teenagers over 16 are allowed to drink in Germany, though they are not allowed to drink liquor with high alcohol concentrations. Also, the school systems are different. In Germany, students stay together as a class, whereas teachers go to different classrooms each period.

Emily McDonald is experiencing cultural shocks in multiple angles. She had a busy summer flying everywhere for swim meets. She went to Hungary for FINA Junior World Swimming Championships with her team. “In Hungary, we had a water fight in the hotel with those random Ping Pong players. It was really fun. We almost got kicked out of the hotel.” She laughed when sharing this.

Although she only spent limited time at home, she found that there was so much Chinese influence in Jamaica. “Since I’ve been out so long, I just missed that out. Most shops and supermarkets are owned by the Chinese, especially in big cities.” She said.

She also shared about her language shocks, “In Jamaica, we have a dialect called Patois. It’s broken English with West African and Spanish influence. For example, medz. When people in the U.S. say it, it means medicine. In Jamaica, it means paying attention to things, and to think about. It’s very different.”

What shocked Faith Khoo in the United States is, “When you meet people for the first time, it’s surprising that they just come and give you a hug.”

Like Emily McDonald, Jack Qu had a great summer as well: he went to Guilin—a city in Southwest China. “I lived in a place like…Airbnb kind of. I lived with local people there, and we went to a waterfall near Vietnam.” He said.

After a rural summer, he experienced huge changes in Shanghai: “There are way too many people in Shanghai.” Payment wise, Jack said he prefers WeChat Pay in China. He said that people in the U.S. have to bring their wallets everywhere, but in China, phones can take people everywhere.”


WeChat is the largest and most influential social media in China with 8 million users, whereas the total population in China is 14 million. While people in most other parts of the world use cash and credit cards to pay, the Chinese use WeChat Pay. In China, it is not uncommon to see people walking around without their wallets. People use WeChat to eat, ride bikes, take subways, buy stuff in self-convenience stores, rent battery dispensary… All by swiping their QR codes!  Jason Du and Jenny Chen said they barely use cash in China. Chen likes the cashless culture because, “It contains everything I need for daily life like chatting, phone calls, transfers…” Jessica Zeng, an American born Chinese, said that she likes WeChat because “It works in China and I have many friends who live in mainland China and I use it when I travel back to China or when my friends travel there. The interface is pretty good and has unique features as well such as ‘moments’ that are more like social media rather than just a messaging app.” Like every social media, there are downsides of WeChat. Both Jason and Jenny agree that WeChat is an easy addiction, and people spend too much time on it.